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The Chrysler Sebring Coupe (2001), It's not just Sporty Looking

SEE ALSO: Chrysler Buyer's Guide

By Larry Weitzman

The lights at Chrysler design center at Hamtrack must burn all night as the new 2001 Sebring is a slam dunk winner. With new models that are setting the world on fire like the PT Cruiser, other models are maybe being overshadowed such as the 2001 Sebring.

The Sebring is actually two different cars. The coupe is a sporty two door hardtop that is built by Mitsubishi, while the convertible and the sedan are built by Chrylser. There is little relationship between the two cars although for 2001 they are both totally new. So what is written here can't be applied directly to the sedan and the convertible although all three cars look virtually identical..

Since the coupe is built by Mitsubishi, it's real relationship partner is with the Mitsubishi Eclipse. The body is designed by Chrylser, but it is built in the Normal, Illinois Mitsubishi factory that builds the Eclipse as well as the Dodge Stratus R/T coupe. Did Chrysler do Mitsubishi a favor. This new body is sumptuous. Chrysler has done an outstanding job is tying in the beautiful lines of the Concorde (one of the prettiest sedans on the market) and melding them into a true sporty coupe.

The front end is all Concorde, from the bumperless Ferrari like front egg crate grille to the smooth sensuous lines that flow from the headlights to the clean rear end, this car is simply beautiful. Everything fits, the headlights, hood shape, wheel wells and tail lights. The rear end has a hint of the 300m and the rounded shape of the Sebring roof line can be seen also in the cabin of the Eclipse. But the Eclipse has never looked this good. This Sebring is clean and purposeful.

In comparison to the previous edition, this Sebring rides on the exact same wheelbase at 103.7 inches, but the 2001 in about a half an inch shorter at 190.2 inches and a half an inch wider at 70.3 inches. The Eclipse is 15 inches shorter with a wheelbase nearly three inches shorter.

But the relationship to the Eclipse is also the dash. It is right out of the Eclipse, nut for nut, bolt for bolt. I knew it looked familiar when I first sat down in the comfortable leather buckets. More on that later.

Under the hood is again all Eclipse. Two engines are available, a 2.4L 147 horse inline SOHC 16 valve four, not a bad performer, but take a pass if you can and go for one of the best V-6s in the business in the form of a SOHC 3.0L 24 valve V-6 that pumps out 200 hp at only 5,500 rpm and 205 pounds of torque at 4,500 rpm. This is a different powerplant than Chrysler uses in the other Sebrings. The sedan and the convertible models get the 2.7L DOHC 200 horse unit out of the Intrepid and Concorde mated to a four speed automatic. I will do a full report on this model at a later date.

What a difference 500 cc's, 37 horsepower and 35 pounds of torque make in the new Sebring. The 2000 convertible with the 2.5L 168 hp V-6 driving through a four speed auto could only muster 0-60 times in the low 10s with passing times in the sixes on the level and high nines in the hills. The 2001 model makes the 2000 seem like it may have been towing the Queen Mary. The new Sebring flat out flies. Are you ready. 0-60 in an average of 7.00 seconds with the quickest sprint taking only 6.76 seconds and the longest time was only 7.17 seconds. That's over a three second improvement and the most significant jump in performance between two models that I have ever recorded. . This new engine is so powerful, that good hookups were the key to quick times, otherwise the Sebring will just smoke the tires like a good Cuban cigar. It is even a tick or two quicker than the smaller Mitsubishi Eclipse Spyder that I tested six months ago with the identical powertrain.

Passing times are also very quick with third gear only times of 4.46 seconds and 6.37 seconds for a level acceleration run from 50-70 and a steep up hill run. But using second and third gear will lower those times to 4.11 seconds and 5.63 seconds respectively. The power is very linear with no bump in the power band, just a steady strong pull.

The five speed manual cog swapper is positive and smooth. The throws are short and the clutch is linear and light. That combination makes a driver look forward to having to run errands or go anywhere at the drop of a hat. The Sebring is a blast to drive. Shifts are naturally smooth and only Igor or a rusty robot would have trouble making smooth shifts. Under full throttle the shift from first to second was lightning quick and smooth. Downshifts were so easy, that you wait for the chance. It makes the twisties extra fun.

Gearing is also well selected with the speed in the gears hitting the rev limiter at about 42 in first, 63 in second and a calculated 95 in third.

Extra fun need not be costly in the wallet. The EPA rates the Sebring at 20/28 mpg city/highway. But during my test period of throttle stomping and excursions into acceleration bliss, the Sebring still managed to achieve 25.5 miles of forward distance for each gallon of gasoline consumed. I would expect at least 23-25 mpg in El Dorado County driving and with a mix of highway thrown in, it could be a gallon or two higher. Maybe the odometer was reading fast? A great powertrain in a fine automobile.

The underpinnings are by four wheel double wishbone independent suspension with coils springs and stabilizer bars at both ends. This is different than the Macpherson Strut, multilink system used in the Eclipse. Ponderosa Road proved no match for this new design. It did a truly admirable job of removing any harshness from the washboard. It could be driven at maximum legal speed in complete comfort without any noise or complaints from the very tight body structure. Chrysler claims to have increased rigidity and torsional stiffness and the proof was an easy and comfortable run of Ponderosa Road. In the two 90 degree corners, the Sebring was excellent with perfect control at a speed I rather not talk about. There was no movement in the rear of the car from any bumps.

In the twisties of Green Valley Road, Cold Springs Road, Latrobe Road and any other road that decided to kink, the Sebring was an absolute pleasure. Steering had near perfect off and on center feel with good feedback. Part of that extra measure of cornering performance no doubt stems from factory standard 17X6.5 inch alloy shod with 215/50H rated performance tires. When diving into corners, it was great fun to snick the shifter down a gear or two and bring the engine up to speed to have the power to exit and throttle steer if need be. It's what makes driving fun and the Sebring really delivers in that department.

But handling and highway comfort need not be mutually exclusive. The Sebring's compliant suspension soaks up minor irregularities with aplomb. It is smooth and quiet. The engine turns a moderate 2,550 rpm at 70 and cannot be heard. But the sound system with its stand CD and cassette makes great sounding music if the growl (only heard when asked though) of the V-6 is not suited to your ears. The ride is well controlled and on the slightly firm side.

Braking performance is also excellent. This Sebring came equipped with four wheel discs with antilocks, a $565 option. In panic stops from 40 mph, the Sebring these binders brought the Sebring to a halt in less than 40 feet. One stop measured only about 35 feet. That is some intentional interruption of forward motion.

Inside are seats done in leather (standard in the Lxi). They are comfortable if a little firm. Getting in and out could be a bit of a problem as the floor pan is at least four to five inches below the door seal. However if you want six way power and the homelink set up, it's called the leather package and it sells for $1,045. The power and homelink are worth it. The door paneling is especially good with a dense padding not found in some more expensive cars.

The dash is straight from the Eclipse. I didn't like it in the Eclipse, but because it is done in black it is less obtrusive in the Sebring. The panels in the convertible and sedan look better. The coupe's dash is legible with a big speedo integrated with a smaller tach flanked by two holes containing the fuel and temp gauges.

In the center is a pod like protrusion that contains the sound system which includes a standard cassette and a four disc CD changer. Underneath the radio is the intuitive AC system. The center console has two cupholders and a small to medium size storage compartment under the padded armrest.

The rear seat is usuable. Headroom is a little tight although leg room isn't bad and the visibility is decent. Because of the tight headroom, the moonroof retracts back and above the roof and not internally. The seats backs are split 50/50 to fold down and expand the already generous 16.3 cubic foot trunk.

Maybe the best part of this road test is the price. The Sebring LXi coupe stickers for $21,475 plus $585 for destination. My test car came with every option except the automatic auto stick. The Moonroof lists for a reasonable $685, the leather package adds $1,045, the antilocks which include four wheel discs are a necessity at $565 and chrome wheels will set you back $750. The total for my tester was $25,105. But you could leave off the moonroof and the chrome wheels (the painted alloys are pretty nice too) and the total drops to about $23,670. That's a bargain.

A base LX starts at $20,495 with destination, but when you add the V-6 and alloys you are up to about $21,700, but that price includes a standard 4 speed automatic, an $825 option on the Lxi. Go for the five speed manual and the Lxi.

El Dorado Chrysler Plymouth Dodge Lincoln and Mercury is being restock with new cars as I write this, including two PT cruisers I saw the other day on their lot. The new owner, Steve Jackson is eager to make your acquaintance and serve your needs. You need to test drive this Sebring, just promise to bring it back and leave some rubber on the tires.


Price                    $20,495 to about $26,000

2.4L SOHC 16 valve 
inline four              147 hp @ 5,500 rpm
                         158 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

3.0L SOHC 24 valve V-6   200 hp @ 5,500 rpm
                         205 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,500 rpm

Five speed manual

Four speed electronically 
controlled automatic with available

Transverse mounted front engine
front wheel drive

Wheelbase            103.7 inches
Length               190.2 inches
Width                70.3   inches
Height               53.7   inches
Track (f/r)          59.4/59.3 inches
Weight               3101 pounds
Fuel Capacity        16.3   gallons
Truck Capacity       16.3   cubic feet
Coefficient of drag  0.36
Wheels               17X6.5 inches
Tires                215/50H performance 

0-60                 7.00 seconds
50-70                4.11 seconds
50-70 up hill        5.63 seconds
Top Speed            The speedo goes to 150, and it probably
                       could get close.  But if you are going
                       to try, use Black Rock or the
                       Bonneville Salt Flats
Fuel Economy         EPA 20/28 mpg city/highway.
                       Expect 23-26 in El Dorado County
                       and 28-30 mpg on the highway
                       at legal speeds